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What is dyscalculia? Learn more about this learning disability in mathematics. Liked by some, hated by others, mathematics is often considered “complex”. Adding, dividing, reasoning, explaining: mathematical logic sometimes poses challenges. And for some, dyscalculia can be a source of confusion.

What is dyscalculia?

Dyscalculia is to mathematics what dyslexia is to reading: instead of having difficulty understanding and using the letters of the alphabet, a dyscalculic person has difficulty understanding and using numbers.

The causes of dyscalculia

According to recent studies on the subject, dyscalculia is of biological origin. It is a neurodevelopmental disorder that manifests itself by the malfunctioning of certain regions of the brain, including the parietal cortex. This area is identified as the “seat” of the number consciousness.

It is estimated that approximately 4% of children in Canada have dyscalculia, and 20% are also dyslexic.

Number sense, the ability to know whether a quantity X is greater than a quantity Y, is said to develop innately. Dysfunction of certain areas of the parietal cortex prevents the development of number sense, resulting in a deficit in the processing of numerical information.

Dyscalculia is therefore a specific mathematical learning disability and has nothing to do with mental impairment. Furthermore, dyscalculia is not due to a lack of stimulation.

Making a Diagnosis

Unfortunately, dyscalculia is the least well known specific learning disability. It is often thought that the child is simply not “good” at math. A neurobiological assessment, conducted by a professional and focused on specific math skills, will help to clarify this.

Specifically, a child with dyscalculia will have difficulty with :

  • reading and writing numbers (inverting numbers, such as writing 34 instead of 43);
  • make simple calculations (he counts on his fingers);
  • remember his multiplication table;
  • grasp the meaning of mathematical terms (sum, difference, division, etc.).

Eventually, these obstacles are transposed into people’s daily lives, such as when it comes time to measure quantities of ingredients to make a recipe or to pay in cash. Even dates and times can be challenging.

Even though this learning disability is permanent, specialized rehabilitation can improve the situation.

How to help a child with dyscalculia

Speech and language therapy helps children who are both dyscalculic and dyslexic. The dyscalculic child can also consult a professional, speech therapist, or remedial teacher., to help him/her to become more and more autonomous in mathematics, especially by practicing to better learn numbers and operations.

At home, parents of children with dyscalculia can also help them make mathematics less anxious by including small arithmetic games in their daily lives:

  • counting the number of apples in the fruit basket.
  • arrange the toys in order of size (ascending or descending).
  • play “at the supermarket” with a small cash register to familiarize themselves with change.
  • play board games where he has to move a pawn to squares and use a die, such as “Snakes and Ladders”.

All of these little exercises will help the child become more comfortable with numbers and calculations as an adult.

Things to remember

  • Dyscalculia is a learning disability in mathematics. It is not a mental disability.
  • The dyscalculic child has difficulty understanding and using numbers.
  • Professionals such as a speech therapist or a speech therapist can help the child.

Photo: GettyImages/djedzura

Resources and References

Note: Hyperlinks to other sites are not updated on an ongoing basis. It is therefore possible that a link may become untraceable. In such a case, use the search tools to find the desired information.

  • ASSOCIATION QUÉBÉCOISE DES NEUROPSYCHOLOGUES. Dyscalculia is more than just not being good at math. www.
  • CENTRE D’ÉVALUATION NEUROPSYCHOLOGIQUE ET D’ORIENTATION PÉDAGOGIQUE. Dyscalculia: Numeracy and learning disabilities in mathematics. www.
  • LAFAY, Anne. “Numerical cognitive deficits involved in developmental dyscalculia”. Doctoral thesis, Université Laval, 2016.
  • MAGAZINE QUÉBEC SCIENCES. Dyscalculia: le vertige des chiffres. www.